The fight or flight response is amazingly helpful when we are in moments of crisis. From an evolutionary perspective, it helped us survive the perils of the “have lunch or be lunch” scenario our ancestors faced when encountering a hungry lion in the wild. The automatic release of cortisol into our bloodstream enabled us to immediately get into action by shutting down the parts of our brain responsible for contemplation and instead getting us into life-saving action.
All well and good. Until and unless the fight or flight response (aka the activation of the sympathetic nervous system) becomes habitual. When that happens, the steady drip of cortisol into our systems wreaks havoc – it causes inflammation, insomnia, and other physical ailments, at the same time inhibiting our ability to reason and reflect. So many of us get stuck in the sympathetic nervous system. Daily demands, never-ending to-do lists, rushing from one thing to another — all of these put increasing pressure on our nervous systems. To reset, we need to make a concerted effort.
The antidote to chronic stress and its effects is the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system – aka rest and digest. When we are here, we release the feel-good hormones of serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine into our blood streams. We feel better, think better, sleep better. Creating daily practices to downregulate our nervous systems is thus an imperative piece of the taking care of ourselves puzzle.
Fortunately for the busiest among us, this can be accomplished quickly and can easily become part of our daily routine. Try this simple technique to reset your nervous system any time of day:
The 4-7-8 Breath
Inhale to a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of seven. Go ahead and count it out silently. Then exhale to a count of eight. Repeat two more times.
This breathing practice trips us into rest and digest by using the scientifically proven techniques of breath retention and longer exhales. It’s easy and effective and you can do it anywhere. Give it a go!